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Snapchat’s Zenly launches shelter-in-place leaderboard

By Josh Constine

Snapchat’s location sharing app acquisition Zenly has gamified shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 outbreak. Today the app launched its Stay At Home challenge that shows a leaderboard of which friends have spent the most percentage of the last three days in their homes. Users can see who’s social distancing the best and share stickers of the scoreboard and coronavirus prevention tips to Snapchat, Instagram, and other apps.

Location apps like Zenly typically encourage users to go out and explore the world suddenly lost most of their purpose due to widespread order for people to self-quarantine. They even might have incentivized people to disobey those orders. But by building a game around isolation, Zenly could make it cool to show off how you’re NOT grabbing coffee, visiting friends, or taking a walk down Main St.

Zenly’s CEO Antoine Martin announced the feature this morning, and credited a tweet I posted on March 15th calling for developers to build a gamified quarantine app as the inspiration. The quick work and rapid deployment was spearheaded by Danny Trinh, the renowned designer of Path who joined the company last year. TechCrunch broke the news back in June 2018 that Snapchat had acquired Zenly for $213 million plus retention bonuses.

👏🏼@thek3vinkim @TurnerNovak @GillesPoupardin @LucasLambertini @nicolasfallourd for staying home!

And thanks @JoshConstine for the idea leading to this feature! pic.twitter.com/CEwrJiCFHd

— Antoine Martin (@an21m) March 24, 2020

Beyond Zenly’s version of “Pokemon No Go”, the app is also offering up tips for containing coronavirus and a link to World Health Organization info. You can also attach a surgical mask to your profile pic to let your friends know you’re taking social distancing seriously.

What could really make a difference in convincing people to do their part to fight this worldwide pandemic, though, is Zenly’s coronavirus lens for its map that it released last week. It lets you look around the world and see the number of confirmed cases and recoveries in each country or state. Zenly is update the data three times per day based on the The John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The map also overlays info from the WHO, the Netherlands’ BNO News, China’s DXY, and this crowdsourced GitHub.

We’ve asked if there’s any plans to launch similar features on Snap Map, which was inspired by Zenly. To date, Snapchat has mostly allowed its acquisition to operate independently from its existing headquarters in Paris.

“During these tough times, millions of people are turning to Zenly as a source of information and connection, so that they can feel close to friends and family even when social distancing is keeping them apart” says Martin. “While spending too much time at home could be perceived as uncool, we wanted to flip the narrative to make it something that our community would be proud of and do our part in stopping the spread.” Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley had told me his company was looking for a way to build its own quarantine gamification, and now has complimented Zenly on its execution, calling it “clever and awesome and beautiful”.

Knowing what’s happening around the globe might reinforce the gravity of our situation and that people can’t just go about their normal routine. We all have to battle this together, even if we’re stuck apart. Thanks to Zenly, social distancing just got a lot more social.

Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

By Catherine Shu

Placer.ai, a startup that analyzes location and foot traffic analytics for retailers and other businesses, announced today that it has closed a $12 million Series A. The round was led by JBV Capital, with participation from investors including Aleph, Reciprocal Ventures and OCA Ventures.

The funding will be used on research and development of new features and to expand Placer.ai’s operation in the United States.

Launched in 2016, Placer.ai’s SaaS platform gives its clients to real-time data that helps them make decisions like where to rent or buy properties, when to hold sales and promotions and how to manage assets.

Placer.ai analyzes foot traffic and also creates consumer profiles to help clients make marketing and ad spending decisions. It does this by collecting geolocation and proximity data from devices that are enabled to share that information. Placer.ai’s co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi says the company protects privacy and follows regulation by displaying aggregated, anonymous data and does not collect personally identifiable data. It also does not sell advertising or raw data.

The company currently serves clients in the retail (including large shopping centers), commercial real estate and hospitality verticals, including JLL, Regency, SRS, Brixmor, Verizon* and Caesars Entertainment.

“Up until now, we’ve been heavily focused on the commercial real estate sector, but this has very organically led us into retail, hospitality, municipalities and even [consumer packaged goods],” Ben-Zvi told TechCrunch in an email. “This presents us with a massive market, so we’re just focused on building out the types of features that will directly address the different needs of our core audience.”

He adds that lack of data has hurt retail businesses with major offline operations, but that “by effectively addressing this gap, we’re helpiong drive more sustainable growth or larger players or minimizing the risk for smaller companies to drive expansion plans that are strategically aggressive.”

Others startups in the same space include Dor, Aislelabs, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Density. Ben-Zvi says Placer. ai wants to differentiate by providing more types of real-time data analysis.

While there are a lot of companies touching the location analytics space, we’re in a unique situation as the only company providing these deep and actionable insights for any location in the country in a real-time platform with a wide array of functionality,” he said.

*Disclosure: Verizon Media is the parent company of TechCrunch.

NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

By Kirsten Korosec

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.

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